Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Stowaways

Last year, myself and artist Mhairi M Robertson, worked with Primary 6/7s in Ardgowan Primary School Greenock, to adapt a local story into a comic. The story we chose to adapt, was the tragic tale of the Stowaways on the Arran; seven young boys hid aboard a ship for Canada in 1878, and were horribly mistreated by the crew, before being left to fend for themselves on the ice fields of Newfoundland. Not all of the boys survived the ordeal.

The tale has been told many different times locally, but we chose to adapt the text of Greenock writer John Donald, who had published his version in 1928 in the book The Stowaways and Other Sea Sketches.

Our work with the class was great fun, and in addition to helping us break down the story into the eventual script for the comic, the kids also created their own comics about being stowaways.

Just before launching the book in January 2017, I thought I would see if we could get a bit of wider interest in the story and the project, and so contacted a journalist at The Scotsman. Alison Campsie did a really nice story previewing the book, but also exploring the tragic history of the stowaways.

The Scotsman story, was read by a lady called Nancy Banner, a resident of New Hampshire USA, and the great granddaughter of one of the boys, John Paul. In fact, her own father, was named after John Paul. Nancy contacted us to ask if we could send a copy of the book, and of course, we were delighted to do so.

At the book launch for The Stowaways, in January 2017, I told the kids about the amazing connection that had been made by retelling the story. Our local paper, the Greenock Telegraph were along on the day, and spoke to all the kids about their work writing the book. This story, was read by another branch of John Paul’s family, living down in Southhampton where he had eventually settled. They had never met the American part of their family, and so got in contact with Nancy, to explain lots more details of family history, including the fact that poor John Paul had been buried in an unmarked grave. Together, the family resolved to locate the burial plot of John Paul, and next year, 150 years after the tragic voyage of the boys on the Arran, John Paul will finally receive a gravestone, which celebrates how the survival of one wee boy is remembered generations later by his grateful family.

We were then contacted by more descendants of the family, by writer Patrick Collins who had written his own version of the tale and we heard from Don MacInnis, the great grandson of the woman who took The Stowaways in at Newfoundland. Don hopes to have a plaque mounted for the boys next year. All these people, connected by one story.

I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in lots of wonderful history and heritage projects over the years, you can never tell where a project will end up or how it will be received. This one surprised us all. It’s proof, if any were needed, about the wonderful power of stories to connect people. The whole time we worked on this project, I thought we were telling a story, but it turned out, we were in one

You can now read The Stowaways for free online.

Read more about Magic Torch Comics work with schools and community groups.

The project was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland, as part of the Heritage Inverclyde A Quest for Learning programme, an Inverclyde Council project delivered by Inverclyde Community Development Trust.